From 75 to 200 feet wide, with a continuous series of long pools, deep runs, shallow riffles, boulder-split currents, and gravelly, sandy bottom, the West Branch is a fly casters' dream come true — when, of course, it has water.
DEP releases Cannonsville water incrementally to avoid sudden water temperature and level changes. It works like a charm because release valves are at the bottom of the dam, where water is coldest.
Unfortunately, maintaining trout habitat is not a DEP priority. In addition to storing New York City water, DEP's primary emphasis is fulfilling a legal obligation to prevent saltwater encroachment on the lower Delaware. Therefore, how much water is in the West Branch depends on how salty the water is in Philadelphia.
During dry summers like 1999, tributaries don't contribute enough runoff to keep saltwater from infiltrating freshwater basins. To supplement this slack, DEP releases Cannonsville water to keep the Delaware robust enough to push back saltwater. A byproduct of this is the West Branch runs high and cold.
In wet summers, tributary runoff is sustained enough to prevent saltwater encroachment with little assistance from Cannonsville. Therefore, the West Branch runs low, warm.
Last year, Cannonsville was nearly full all summer, while the West Branch cooked. Despite pleas from businesses, anglers, conservation groups, and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), DEP refused to release water above the summer-minimum flow of 160 cfs.
Fall fishing was salvaged by a last-minute agreement negotiated by the DEC, which convinced the DEP not to reduce flows to 45 cfs after Sept. 15. Through October, the West Branch ran at 200 cfs.
Anglers hope this rare DEP concession bodes well for the future. The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), which manages the Delaware River system, is developing a flow regime that will, hopefully, meet water-supply needs and benefit fish.
What if water levels rarely go above 160 cfs this summer?
"There are still good areas to fish, but many lies and holes get dried up and fish move to deeper lies," said Anthony Ritter of Gone Fishing Guide Service in Narrowsburg (845-252-3657). "They get stacked up. You want them spread out."
You'll be restricted to wading. Ritter said water needs to be at least 3 feet deep to float.
"Drifting is best because you cover a lot more water," he said. "In 2 feet of water, you'd be in and out of the boat 16 times. It makes for a long day."
Ideally, Ritter said, water needs to be between 500 to 600 cfs to be 3 feet deep, although 455 cfs will put 2.8 feet of water in the river, which is driftable.
Wading low, clear water requires stealth and matching hatches — less prolific in less water — requires a good eye.
Fish early mornings with Tricos and BWOs or evenings with spinners. Go with 15-foot leaders and 6X or 7X tippets. Presentation is critical. Soft, accurate casts and drag-free floats are essential.
Last July and August, yellow and golden-drake hatches were sporadic, although sulphur hatches were good until October. In 1999, when water ran at 1,100 cfs into mid-September, Tricorythodes, or trico, and sulphur hatches were spectacular all summer.
Tricos, black-and-white mayflies, emerge in the morning in the early weeks of the hatch, then sporadically in late mornings or early afternoon the rest of the season. Go with size Nos. 24 or 26 imitations. Other good bets include size 16 to 18 sulphurs, Adams flies and a few caddis. On cloudy days, try size 18 to 20 BWOs.
Subsurface action can be good whether water levels are up or down. White and black streamers with flash, and pearl and black Zonkers can be very effective. Flycasting isn't the only way to catch fish here. Good baits include sawbellies, redworms, hellgrammites, and small minnows.
Don't overlook nightfishing with lures, either; Rapalas are deadly, especially No. 9 and 11 silver with black-topped, or gold with black top. Other good lures include Thomas spinners and small spoons.
At a glance
What: The 14-mile tailwater span from Cannonsville Reservoir south to the confluence of the West Branch and East Branch near Hancock in Delaware County, N.Y., 140 miles northwest of New York City.
State offices: For fishery, regulations information, call N.Y. DEC Region 4 in Stamford at (607) 652-7366.
Bait/tackle/flies: Hornbeck's Tackle (607-467-4680), Deposit, N.Y.; The Flye & The Pen (607-467-5478), Deposit; Marino's Outdoor World (607-637-3573), Hancock, N.Y.; McFadden's Fly & Tackle (845-887-6000), Hankins, N.Y.; Delaware River Tackle (607-729-4009), Johnson City, N.Y. Guides: Jerry Hadden (570-853-4048), Susquehanna, Pa.; Adrian LaSorte Guide Service (607-722-2482; ), Binghamton, N.Y.; Anthony Ritter, Gone Fishing Guide Service (845-252-3657), Narrowsburg, N.Y.; Joe McFadden (845-887-6000), Hankins, N.Y.; Michael Padua, Sweetwater Guide Service (570-729-0715).
Fishing resorts: West Branch Angler (607-467-5525), Deposit; Al Caucci Flyfishing (800-662-9359), Tannersville, Pa.; River Essentials (570-635-5900), Starlight, Pa.
General area info: Delaware County Chamber of Commerce, 114 Main Street, Delhi, N.Y. 13753, phone: (607) 746-2281, e-mail: ; Web site: . Hancock Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 525, Hancock, N.Y. 13783-0525, phone: (800) 668-7624; e-mail: . Deposit Chamber of Commerce, Dept. FS, P.O. Box 222, Deposit, N.Y. 13754. Phone: (800) 467-3190.
Hotlines: Cannonsville flow rates for the next 24-hour period are updated daily at 2:30 p.m. April through October on a Trout Unlimited hotline (845) 295-1006. Also, call (607) 467-5565 for regionwide fishing conditions.
Material from Fishing & Hunting News published 22 times a year. Visit them at www.fishingandhuntingnews.com
West Branch Anglers
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Lloyd Hornbeck - owner
Deposit, NY 13754
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